A dental bridge spans the gap where a missing tooth once was, filling the space with a synthetic tooth. Like a bridge over a river, most dental bridges need support at either end, although cantilever bridges are an exception. Fitting a bridge requires reshaping the abutment teeth and capping them with crowns to hold the bridge securely.
Who Needs Dental Bridges?
Anyone who has missing or damaged teeth may be a candidate for dental bridges. Without something to occupy gaps, remaining teeth can shift position and alter your bite. These changes can lead to jaw pain, headaches and an increased risk of periodontal disease. Bridgework is more than a cosmetic procedure; it is essential to dental health. Bridges serve a number of purposes:
Restoring a healthy bite to facilitate chewing
Maintaining the contours of the face
Improving your smile
Reducing damage to remaining teeth from a misaligned bite
Restoring self-confidence after an accident or injury
Materials for Dental Bridges
Creating dental bridges is both a science and an art. The bridgework must feel functional and natural, and it must also match your natural teeth. To mimic the look of natural enamel, dentists may use porcelain by itself or bonded to a metal base. Some bridges use a composite resin that mimics the translucence of natural teeth.
Types of Bridges
Dental bridges are available as fixed or removable appliances. Your age, the health of your remaining teeth and your preferences determine which bridge type a dentist may fit. Both bridge types have their advantages, and both contribute to a healthier bite profile. Whether they are fixed or removable, bridges look indistinguishable from your natural teeth.
A fixed bridge consists of a replacement tooth that fits a gap in your dentition and permanent crowns capping the abutment teeth on either side of the space. Fixed bridges feel and function much like your natural teeth; after a short while, most patients report that they rarely notice their bridgework except during cleaning. This bridge type offers great stability and strength. Because the bridge is fixed, it cannot be removed for easier cleaning and requires a specialized brush or flossing tool to maintain it.
Expect a fixed bridge to last about 10 to 20 years. When it is time to replace it, your dentist can remove a fixed bridge and craft a new dental appliance.
Also known as partial dentures, removable bridges are not permanently affixed to neighboring teeth, instead fastening to them with clasps. They are easy to keep clean and typically cost less than fixed bridges. Your dentist may recommend a removable bridge if the teeth on either side of the gap are soft or if you are missing a number of teeth. For teeth that may require more reconstruction in the near future, a removable bridge might be the right choice.
Getting a Dental Bridge
Your dentist will schedule two appointments for creating and fitting your bridge. During your first visit, the dentist will give you a local anesthetic and prepare the abutment teeth for the appliance. After shaping the neighboring teeth, the dentist will take a bite impression. This impression will become the mold for the bridge's structure. You will then get a temporary bridge and crowns to protect the abutment teeth while your permanent bridge is being made.
During your subsequent dental appointment, you will have your permanent bridge fitted and shaped. If it is a fixed bridge, the dentist will attach it to the abutment teeth. For removable bridges, metal or plastic clasps are affixed to the abutment teeth to hold the appliance.
Caring for Dental Bridges
Bridgework must be cleaned diligently, and that requires adding a few new tools to your oral hygiene regimen. A dental floss threader lets you sweep under your bridgework to keep the area clean. Small, flexible brushes can also be handy. Water jet devices blast trapped food particles from beneath bridgework. Your dentist can recommend oral care products to care for your porcelain or resin bridge.
Removable bridges require gentle handling. Porcelain is a brittle substance and can chip if treated roughly. Set your bridge down carefully instead of dropping it onto hard surfaces. Removable bridgework should be cleaned as often as you clean your other teeth and can be brushed with the same toothpaste or with cleansers designed for dentures.
Follow any specific instructions for the care of your bridgework and tell your dentist if you note any of the following concerns that could indicate a bridge that no longer fits:
Difficulty biting or chewing your food
Headaches or jaw pain
Loosening of removable bridgework
Rough or raw spots on the soft tissues surrounding the bridge
Difficulty speaking clearly